Sheffield Wednesday team responsible for cleaning all 39,000 seats at Hillsborough targets national award

Mary Kitson who has been nominated for 'The Unsung Hero Award by Sheffield Wednesday in the forthcoming Football League Awards in London
Mary Kitson who has been nominated for 'The Unsung Hero Award by Sheffield Wednesday in the forthcoming Football League Awards in London
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SHEFFIELD Wednesday are hoping to clean up this year at a national awards ceremony - with the help of supergran Mary Kitson.

Mary leads a team of nine cleaners at Hillsborough responsible for making sure everything is spick and span on match days - including all 39,000 seats.

Now the 69-year-old has been nominated in the Bluefin Unsung Hero category at this year’s Football League Awards to be held in London next month.

Mary’s been with the Owls for the last 43 seasons - 34 of them full time - and has seen both triumph and disaster down the years.

Four promotion seasons, appearances at Wembley and Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium and triumph in the 1991 League Cup Final have been the high points.

But Mary was also on duty on the day of the Hillsborough Disaster - and faced the challenge of her working life after the ground was devastated by the floods of 2007.

“I went on all the Wembley trips, and to Cardiff too. There have been good times and bad times - you have to get on and grin and bear it,” she said.

Mary virtually lives on the premises, as her home is on Vere Road in the shadow of the stadium itself.

“I’ve no intention of retiring, I love my job and every day is different,” she said.

Mary and her team look after both the stadium, the surrounding area and the Middlewood Road training ground, clearing up after matches and taking care of all the offices, corridors and toilets. She also ensures that all those seats stay shiny and blue.

“We properly wash and clean all the seats - it takes us six weeks to get all the way round the ground, and then we have to start again. It’s like painting the Forth Rail Bridge!” Mary said.

“But as we haven’t had a home match for nearly three weeks now we’re well on top of everything.”

Mary first started work at Hillsborough in 1968 as a part-timer aged 26, but went full time in 1977.

Cleaning up after the 2007 flood was the job of a lifetime - the whole stadium was under several feet of water which left behind huge amounts of sticky, smelly mud.

Aged 66 at the time, Mary spent hours shovelling the residue in a race against time to get the ground ready in time for the new season.

“The worst thing was I’d be clearing up at work and then going home to it as well - my house was completely flooded too,” said Mary.

“It was a complete nightmare and in some ways we are still getting over it. My cellars are still full of damp.”

Mary was also caught up in the 1989 disaster, which started out for her as just a normal match day.

Her home became a refuge for Liverpool fans suffering from shock and minor injuries, desperate to call home to let loved ones know they were safe.

“The fans were also throwing coins down to me with their phone numbers wrapped around them from the ground, begging me to call home for them.

“I still keep in touch with some of them, they write to me because they haven’t forgotten. One lad was 13 or 14 at the time and he’s just been in touch to say he’s getting married.”

When Mary does finally retire, the family line will continue - her daughter is also part of the Hillsborough cleaning squad.

“For the time being I’m really looking forward to going down to London for the awards.

“It’s such an honour - I can’t quite believe it,” she added.